Feet Aching, Heart Breaking

Joining the Camino to Cop for a couple of days

By Kaspa Thompson

a group of people stand together smiling and waving . They are in a field, underneath a willow tree. They are carrying flags and one of them is dressed as a polar bea.
The Western Camino arriving in Upton upon Severn, met a polar bear and two faceless bureaucrats from XR Malvern

Recently I had to write a reflection for some Buddhist training I am taking. I chose to write about my experience of briefly joining the Western leg of the Camino to Cop. Before sharing that reflection I want to thank everyone that organised (and continues to organise) the pilgrimage, including Mikey from XR Buddhists who has spent a lot of time working on this event over the past year, and Nick from XR Buddhists who helped organise the Marches leg. The Camino welcomes day walkers joining them at any stage, do check out the website for more details.

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Thirty of us walk quickly and quietly along the edge of a field of purple clover. I am surprised by how strong the scent of the flowers is, how it comes up in waves from the ground as our legs brush past the flowers and the too hot September sun heats the soil. We are walking quickly and quietly. Quickly because there are lots of miles to cover. Quietly because we are pilgrims and although for most of the day we are chattering away it is important sometimes to be quiet and listen. We are listening to ourselves, to our own thoughts and feelings coming and going. We are listening to birdsong (not as much as I hoped for) we are listening to each other’s footsteps, and how our breathing changes when we start walking uphill to the top of the Old Hills.

In the silence I bring to mind why I have joined these walkers for a couple of days. Not for a nice day out with friends (although it is partly that) but to support this pilgrimage that started a week ago, and will go on for five more weeks as they walk up to Glasgow for the COP26 Climate Conference.

Scientists tell us that urgent action is required as people of faith we find individual and collective ways of amplifying this message. This walk is one of those ways.

Later as we cross the River Severn, we are greeted by Johnny who is dressed as a polar bear. “I’ve lost my home” he shouts, reminding us of the importance of the message we are carrying.

In the face of the awful news of extreme weather, and the losses and suffering the world has already faced as a result of the climate crisis and ecological emergency it can be easy to fall into fatalism and doomerism. I have fallen into this myself, sometimes, and imagine that I will do again.

When I am in that place I can use the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence to prop up my despair. Everything changes, it’s all impermanent and there is nothing I can do!

When I can approach this suffering and loss with an open heart without falling into despair my experience of impermanence is very different. I think of the long lifespan of the universe and of the earth and how small a time that human beings have been around for. Remembering that offers a kind of spaciousness and relief. Remembering impermanence also suggests to me that change is possible, although some awful effects of the climate crisis are locked in we don’t have to keep making things worse – the habits of consumption, greed and ignorance can also be impermanent. When we meet impermanence with an open heart we feel grief and loss and this quickens the senses and the mind and invites us to take compassionate action.

The Buddha’s teaching on impermanence should not be about taking us out of the world, but about moving us closer to it.

I am sure the key qualities of Buddhas are that they respond with compassion, creativity and energy to whatever circumstances they find themselves in. I find myself in a world in crisis and try to respond with the same qualities. This is why I am walking with these pilgrims, and why I’ll be joining them in Glasgow in November.

I can’t calculate the exact impact of these actions that I take when I join with activists and protestors, with people from all different faith groups and people without any particular faith. I trust that acting compassionately and with a good heart is always worthwhile. The Buddha talked about the value of watering good seeds. For me this joining in this walk is watering good seeds, meditating out in public places in Glasgow will be watering good seeds and even being arrested for meditating in the road is watering good seeds. I don’t know when those seeds will flourish and flower, and maybe I won’t be around to see it, but still I trust in the value of watering them.

I’m reminded of the old zen story* about a monk who kept fishing a scorpion out of the river. Each time he fished the scorpion out he was stung and his friend asked why keep fishing him out? It is in the nature of the scorpion to sting, the monk said, and it is my nature to keep rescuing him.

It is in the nature of the world to be impermanent, it is the nature of people to change, and it is in the nature of Buddhas to respond with compassion.

*I’m not sure if it’s a real Zen story or not. I can’t find a decent source, but it’s online here.

Posts and articles are the views of their authors and not necessarily of the XR Buddhists group.

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